Hilary Swank plays an inspirational teacher challenging dangerous minds in Freedom Writers, a true-story drama set in Southern California in the 90s. Erin's new class is a hotbed of racial tension and rebellion - that's until she lends a sympathetic ear to the teens' complaints and buys them books they can actually relate to. Brit Imelda Staunton makes her Hollywood debut as dragonian department head Margaret, and Grey's Anatomy's Patrick Dempsey is the disgruntled husband in this formulaic but watchable drama.
"Nice pearl necklace... I wouldn't wear that to class," warns Margaret as chirpy, fresh-faced Erin embarks on her first teaching assignment. Erin's toothy smile soon fades when her class start falling out over gang shootings, but she resolves to get through to the kids, and by golly she does. While impressive, her results seem a little too sudden to convince: surly, swaggering youths suddenly start falling into line and embracing their new "family" in classroom 203 - it's almost as if Erin has brainwashed them into some sort of cult.
But Freedom Writers has its inspiring moments - especially given the true story - and some tense, dramatic scenes amid the speedy montages of confusing gang action. Swank's performance helps the medicine go down, too, making this a pleasant watch despite its indulgent length and sketchy characters. After all, surely the pretty, attentive Erin is the kind of teacher young guys dream of...
Freedom Writers is released in UK cinemas on Friday 2nd March 2007.